Healthy Habits for a Healthy Heart – Balanced Diet and Alcohol Consumption

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The risks of developing cardiovascular disease can be reduced by adopting a new lifestyle, which involves shifting from certain habits to others.

We know that there are factors that increase these risks. Some of them, such as age and gender, cannot be modified.

Others can be modulated, for instance, hypertension, diabetes, and hypercholesterolemia. The treatment aims to achieve the target values established by clinical research.

Finally, modifying certain lifestyle habits has shown undeniable benefits in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.

The following article bears on a balanced diet and alcohol consumption.

You may wish to read the topics below from the same series:

Balanced Diet and Alcohol Consumption

Until just recently, cardiovascular diseases were the leading cause of mortality in industrialized countries. The recognition of the role of cholesterol in the formation of atherosclerotic plaques had been the decisive point of this sad ranking position.

When it comes to drugs that lower bad blood cholesterol (LDL), statins have shown themselves to be as effective as antibiotics in their fight against bacteria and their reproduction. Thanks to these two findings, cardiovascular and infectious diseases are no longer at the top of the list of fatal diseases in Canada. 

Two mechanisms affect our blood cholesterol level. The first one is that our body produces cholesterol. This cholesterol is genetically encoded in us like a thermostat controls the temperature in a room. The food we eat is the second mechanism.

Read more: The cholesterol>>

A balanced diet

A balanced diet is the main therapeutic tool in the treatment of numerous health problems, including heart disease. Food helps manage blood pressure and diabetes, and in maintaining a healthy weight. Above all, it reduces the recurrence of cardiovascular complications.

The key to successful diet modification is to take it one step at a time.

Do not hesitate to consult a nutritionist or dietitian. This professional is specialized in the field of nutrition and can help you in your approach. He/she can draw up a personal diet plan for you, based on your heart condition.

Generally Speaking...

Here are a few tips to help you optimize your diet.

1-Eating schedule:

Plan to eat at regular times, leaving 4 to 6 hours between meals. Have a snack between meals, if you feel hungry, and respect the satiety signs your body sends you.

Allow yourself time to chew properly. It normally takes about 20 minutes for the stomach to signal to the brain that it is satisfied and to start digesting.


Drink water and limit sugary drinks. It is recommended that average-sized people, who do not suffer from heart failure or kidney disease, drink 2 liters of fluids a day to compensate for losses in urine, sweat, stools, and breathing.

The body needs water for a wide range of vital processes and to avoid dehydration. Of course, water in any form is preferable to juice and soft drinks.

3-Alcohol :

Alcohol raises blood pressure levels, speeds up the heartbeat, and increases blood triglycerides.

However, several studies have shown that low-dose alcohol protects against myocardial infarctions. It is recommended to drink alcohol in moderation, i.e., no more than 2 alcoholic beverages a day for men, and slightly less for women.

Serving Sizes:  

  • 1 beer: 12 oz, 341 ml, 5% alcohol;
  • 1 standard-size glass of wine: 5 oz, 142 ml, 12% alcohol;
  • 1 shot of spirits: 1,5 oz, 43 ml, 40% alcohol.


Although all types of alcohol are mentioned here, the impact of red wine seems to be the most important. The grape skins used in its production contain polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants with positive effects on cardiovascular health.

Yet, to have an even greater impact on cardiovascular health, it is advisable to rely on foods that are rich in antioxidants. They are found in many fruits and vegetables, eaten whole, in other words, with peels on.

Fruit and vegetable skins contain fibers, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other micronutrients. However, be sure to wash them in clear water before eating;  they are covered with residues, germs, microbes, and pesticides, some of which are dangerous. There are other ways to clean the skin from these foods, but clear water is still reliable.

The satiation provided by this type of diet contributes to our resistance to alcohol, which is often taken in excess.

-Studies concerning antioxidants

The clinical studies carried out on several antioxidants, including vitamin E with or without vitamin C, should not be overlooked.

To date, no scientific study supports the use of antioxidants as a supplement to a balanced diet.


You should not drink more than 4 cups of coffee a day.

Above that amount, the negative effects of caffeine will be felt, including increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, and altered moods. In addition, over-consumption of caffeine interferes with hunger and satiety signals.

5-Sodium :

Limit your daily salt intake to 2 g for better control of your blood pressure. Avoid adding salt during cooking and at the table.

Choose minimally processed foods and make sure that the Daily Value (DV) of sodium contained in the foods you buy is less than 15% of the Recommended Daily Value. It’s a good idea to read the nutrition labels on the packaging when you’re shopping at the grocery store.

6-Lipids :

Choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as Omega-3 and most plant-based fats. Avoid saturated and trans fats, found mainly in processed foods and animal products;

  • eat at least 2 portions of fatty fish a week: salmon, sardines, halibut, and mackerel;
  • give preference to plant proteins: soy, edamame, tofu, and tempeh proteins, legumes as well as nuts;
  • limit your consumption of red meat: beef, pork, lamb, veal, horse meat, etc.

7-Carbohydrates :

It is important to reduce your intake of simple sugars (table sugar, processed foods, or foods with a high glycemic index) and to increase your intake of dietary fiber.

Fibers are carbohydrates, of course, but they do not raise glycemic levels; on the contrary, they lower them. Likewise, fiber, particularly oat fiber, helps lower bad cholesterol in the blood, a risk factor for heart disease.

In the specific case of persons with diabetes, distributing their carbohydrate intake throughout the day helps them control their blood sugar levels and maintain energy. To achieve this, it is advisable to:

  • avoid adding sugar to foods and beverages, i.e., tea, coffee, etc.;
  • choose unprocessed food items (get cooking!);
  • favor whole grain and fiber-rich products.


There is a lot of conflicting nutrition information, which can be confusing and discouraging when trying to change eating habits. A healthy diet should be a balance of all foods, with the pleasure of eating as its cornerstone.


United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) promotes the identification, protection, and preservation of the world’s cultural and natural heritage, considered to be of outstanding value to humanity, as stipulated in the international treaty entitled: “Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and National Heritage”, adopted in November 1972.

What Does UNESCO Have to Do With Cardiology?

In 2010, UNESCO included the Mediterranean diet on its list of Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Several factors underline the value of this recognition, one of which is the undeniable impact on the reduction of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and dementia as well.

The Mediterranean Diet

This is a diet rich in fruits and legumes, monounsaturated fats, Omega-9, and polyunsaturated Omega-3. Fibers and cereals are the main sources of carbohydrates, while proteins come from legumes, nuts, poultry, and fish rather than red meats.  

Clinical studies were carried out on the different impacts on cardiovascular diseases when this eating style was adopted, ranging from strict vegetarianism, with or without a moderate exercise program. The results were astonishing!

A group of patients on the Mediterranean diet showed substantial clinical improvement compared with another group of patients on a conventional diet. For some patients in the first group, a regression of coronary blockages was observed.

What About Other Types of Diets?

Nowadays, numerous communication websites promote a wide variety of diets. Some are more recent, others are more fashionable.

To date, however, none of these had a comparable impact on the outcome of chronic diseases.

In Conclusion on Nutrition

Avoid overly strict restrictions and the feeling of dieting continuously.

Develop new healthy eating habits that will endure over time.

If the meal on your plate consists mainly of vegetables, is colorful and varied, and you have cooked it yourself without adding too much sugar or salt, you are off to a great start!